March 6, 2019 Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Isn’t it amazing the extremes that some people will go to get noticed?
I am sure that within the last twenty years the desire to get noticed and make a name for oneself has probably increased. Due to the growth of the internet and social media outlets, anyone can put themselves out there with the hopes of being seen or followed by others. You can flaunt your life all over Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and many others too numerous to name. You can put your profile out there in the hopes of finding a date! You can post videos of almost anything to YouTube with the hope that it becomes viral.
Viral is a good word, because viruses infect and can cause damage to something that is healthy. An unmonitored use of social media can lead to a false misrepresentation of self and misguided actions. It is easy to get caught up in an alternate reality and forget that we can be seen by others! The impression we give others reflects our priorities. Most importantly, God sees us no matter the impression we are giving people. Are we acting with ourselves in mind, or are we living out the call of Jesus Christ?
This passage we hear from our gospel lesson this evening may make you squirm in your seat a little. Especially given the fact that we will soon get up and be marked with the sign of a cross on our foreheads. So much, for not letting our piety be seen by anyone else! You better be careful when you are fasting to not look dismal either. That could be hard too, if you decided to give up coffee or chocolate for Lent!
This teaching from Jesus on Ash Wednesday is part of the Sermon on the Mount where he has a prolonged oration on how to conduct yourself as a believer of God. I think that the tension that he creates is intentional so that people will start truly thinking about their actions and will begin to contemplate on his Word. We do not get to hear of the crowd’s reactions to his preaching, but I am sure that there are some slack-jawed faces out in that crowd finding it hard to believe what he is saying. Perhaps some of them even decided to get up and walk back home.
Those same words strike us hard today! It is easy to be easily distracted from what matters the most when we have so many other voices begging for our attention. We in turn get pulled in and start begging for attention from others by trying to get the most friends, likes, or views through our various online accounts. For those that do not post, video record, or tweet, there are other ways to get noticed as well. I am sure that you know people that have a comment for anything and everything. All they must do, is walk into a gathering of people and be loud. Unfortunately, that is multiplied when they are online.
While we may go way beyond what is necessary to get noticed, we must remember that we are already noticed! Three times in our gospel lesson Jesus reminds the disciples, “The Father sees. . .” We do not have to go out of our way to get noticed for our piety. Yet, living a pious life can draw us closer to God. Alas, that is the only reason that we should be doing so. We should not be going about and showing off how righteous and pious we are to others through our prayers, fasting, or even receiving ashes.
We do these things because we know that they draw us closer to the mercy of God. A God that created us in God’s very own image! A God that desires for us to repent and turn our lives back to the one whose image we are created.
We do not have to worry about the image that we project to the world, either in real life or on social media, because God truly knows who we are. For some, that may be a scary realization. For others, it may be a relief. This time of Lent is meant to be an intentional time to draw closer to God and it begins this evening as we remember that we were created from dust and to dust we shall return. No image is greater than the love that is seen in Christ that we can then carry out into our community.
Let us pray. God of mercy, we return to you this evening and ask for forgiveness for those times we have projected false or incorrect images that do not reflect your Son, Jesus Christ. We welcome in these next forty days as a time of possibilities to be drawn closer to you. Amen.